Ancient Egyptian Society

The ancient Egyptian civilisation spanned thousands of years, and was both complex and fascinating.

Burial Practices in Ancient Egypt

The process of mummification is so closely associated with ancient Egypt, that a number of misconceptions are widely believed. Egyptians were not to only people to mummify their dead, and full mummification was really only an option for wealthy Egyptians at certain periods of Egyptian history. Over time, there was an evolution in the process of mummification. Mummification involved complex rituals and numerous amulets, such as the Heart Scarab.

Ancient Egyptian funerary figurines known as Shabti (Shawabti, Ushabti) were often placed in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife. Thousands of examples of these beautiful statuettes made from a variety of materials have been recovered from ancient Egyptian sites.

The people of ancient Egypt wanted to be sure that they could enjoy all of the good things in life in the afterlife. To ensure this, they inscribed the offering formula in their tombs on false doors and on offering tables which were placed in their tombs.

During the funeral the mummy (and often a statue of the deceased) were "reanimated" by the "Opening of the Mouth" ritual so that they could see, hear and enjoy food offerings. Then the mourners would enjoy a mortuary feast (wake) and the family and friends of the deceased were entertained by musicians and dancers. The lyrics of the "Song of the Harper" (or "Harper's Song") were inscribed in many tombs. They were intended to cheer the bereaved but also satirised the building of large tombs and burial of provisions for the afterlife and reminded the listeners to live for the moment and enjoy life.

Mummification was not a process which was reserved to people in ancient Egypt. In fact, we have discovered several million more animal mummies than human mummies! Animals mummies come in four main types; the mummy of a sacred animal, the mummies of pets, animals mummified as offering to a god who was associated with that animal, and mummies which were burial provisions placed in or near the tomb of a deceased person.

Jewellery, Perfume and Incense

As life in an ancient city could be rather smelly, they also developed beautiful incense and perfume which was thought to have medicinal qualities and was associated with the gods. The most famous and popular incense was Kyphi (Kapet). They also used essential oils in massage, reflexology and aromatherapy.

Tutankhamun's scarab

All Egyptians wore jewellery, and some beautiful pieces have been recovered from burial sites. Jewellers were called "neshedi nubi" (goldsman) and "hemu nub" (gold artisan). Their craft was highly valued in Egyptian society. Find out more about Bracelets, Necklaces and Collars.

The ancient Egyptians used beautiful pigments and colours to enhance their art and jewellery. As well as artistic considerations the meaning of colour in ancient Egypt was also important. Each colour had a symbolic aspect which gave a further level of meaning to the finished object or painting. The basic palette centered around six colours; red, blue, green, yellow, white and black.

Clothing, Crowns and Regalia

The ancient Egyptians generally wore white linen clothing, well suited to the heat of the desert. Find out more about ancient Egyptian clothing.

The pharaoh carried many additional items which acted as emblems of royal power and had a number of different crowns for different occasions.


The Egyptians were skilled administrators. The pharaoh was the central authority but the country was divided into Nomes or provinces whose local government helped everything to run smoothly. There was also the ancient division between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt which was preserved thoughout Egyptian history.

Ancient Egyptian scribes worked in every area of society, calculating tax revenues, perpetuating the written culture, recording legal decisions and supporting the work of architects, priests and managing foreign affairs. The ancient Egyptian calendar was developed at an early stage because it was necessary to be able to predict the coming of the inundation and because it allowed the development of their bureaucracy. The calendar also had a religious connection as months were named after gods and goddesses and the calendar fixed the relative dates of festivals to honour the gods.


The Egyptians were a powerful military force for much of their history. Martial prowess was an important attribute of the pharaoh who was often shown riding his chariot into battle or smiting enemies.

Animals in Ancient Egypt

Animals played an important part in the economy, religion and society of the ancient Egyptians. Many gods were closely associated with one or more animals and certain animals were considered to be living incarnations of a deity. Find out more about: cats in ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptian bull cults.


The Egyptians had a varied diet including ; bread; meat and fish; fruit and vegetables; nuts, seeds and beans; and numerous herbs and spices. Beer was an important part of their diet and they also made wine and milk. Make your own food with these fun ancient Egyptian recipes.

copyright J Hill 2016
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